Local Corruption Plagues Los Angeles County

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

Photo courtesy of channone, flickr

California doesn’t have nearly the reputation of, say, New Jersey or Maryland when it comes to a history of public corruption. Studies that measure corruption with metrics tend to give most corrupt honors to less populated, poorer southern states like Louisiana and Mississippi or big, relatively wealthy Midwest and Eastern states like Illinois and Pennsylvania.

But when it comes to the most corrupt counties, few if any can top the recent run that Los Angeles County is on — specifically, the cities and agencies in south and central L.A. County.

The latest example came last week when Luis Aguinaga resigned as mayor of South El Monte after admitting to taking bribes for seven years from a contractor paid by the city for engineering and construction services.

A Nexis search of stories by the Southern California News Group, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio shows Aguinaga has plenty of corrupt company in neighboring communities.

Bell

In 2010, a  Los Angeles Times investigation found that the city was being run like a criminal enterprise to the benefit of city officials and City Council members who received huge salaries and relied on illegal taxes and deceptive accounting. Former City Manager Robert Rizzo was found guilty of 69 corruption charges. Five City Council members also were convicted over city schemes.

Carson

Mayor Al Robles is now under siege from Los Angeles County prosecutors for simultaneously serving on the board of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California and as Carson mayor. He faced a county grand jury rebuke over the water board’s move to pay his legal bills. He has also faced years of campaign finance allegations over his water board and Carson election campaigns.

Central Basin Municipal Water District

Political and legal fallout continues from a scandal involving an alleged $2.75 million slush fund created by the district to pay politically connected consultants such as former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, D-Montebello. Central Basin board member Art Chacon was allowed to collect car allowance and mileage reimbursements from the district from 2006 to 2014, an eight-year span in which he didn’t have a driver’s license. To avoid a potentially huge payout at trial, in 2014, the district settled sexual harassment allegations made by a female contractor against district Director Robert Apodaca for $670,000.

City of Commerce

In 2012, Councilman Robert Fierro resigned after he pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge related to his attempts to dupe investigators looking into the financing of his 2005 campaign. In 2010, Councilman Hugo Argumedo resigned after he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice. Argumedo concocted evidence to help an attorney sue his city for allegedly unpaid legal fees.

Cudahy

In 2012, City Manager Angel Perales, Mayor David Silva and Councilman Osvaldo Conde were arrested by the FBI after being caught seeking bribes from the owner of a marijuana dispensary. In 2014, then-state Controller John Chiang released a scathing report about city finances that found city credit cards were used improperly for meals, travel and entertainment; pay raises were awarded without explanation or justification; and that employees regularly received paid leave that they were not entitled to get.

Lynwood

In 2012, former City Council members Louis Byrd and Fernando Pedroza were convicted of illegally boosting their pay — by $330,000 and $160,000, respectively — by taking stipends for working on city commissions without any responsibilities, a crime with parallels to what happened in Bell. There were also reports that city officials used city credit cards to pay for entertainment, including “a $1,500 night out at a Guadalajara strip club, where dancers allegedly performed sexual favors” for two city officials, the Los Angeles Times reported. In 2007, Mayor Paul H. Richards II received a 16-year sentence for a long-running embezzlement scheme.

Maywood

County prosecutor are now investigating alleged illegal collusion to get around state open-government laws that may be related to questionable zoning changes made without proper scrutiny. There are also reports that the FBI is investigating possible bribery in the awarding of city contracts.

Montebello

In 2011, state Controller John Chiang issued a report showing that officials had improperly spent more than $31 million, helping prompt a city budget crisis. Redevelopment funds were used for many non-government purposes, including meals in Las Vegas.

South Gate

Former city councilman, city manager, mayor and treasurer Albert Robles was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison in 2005 for public corruption, money laundering and bribery. Though several of the convictions were thrown out in 2013, Robles’ sentence was not reduced because of the seriousness of the bribery counts that remained.

Vernon

The tax-rich industrial city which long controlled who voted in the city by controlling who stayed in its very limited housing was nearly disbanded by the Legislature in 2011 after Donal O’Callaghan became the third city administrator since 2006 to face criminal charges. Mayor Leonis Malburg and his wife Dominica were convicted of voter fraud and conspiracy in 2009. The Malburgs lied for years about living in Vernon while actually residing at a Hancock Park mansion.

This piece was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Conflict laws must be stronger for California politicians

As reported by the Los Angeles Daily News:

Aren’t there people in your immediate family other than your spouse or partner whose financial well-being you have an extraordinary interest in?

Of course there are — especially when they are your children, including your adult children who are out on their own in the world. It makes little to no difference that any money they make, unlike a spouse’s income, is not part of your own community property, doesn’t bolster your own bank account. The fact is that of course you want them to do well. You raised them, after all. Who wouldn’t want them to succeed?

That’s precisely why it’s important to ensure that those we choose to be our political leaders, whether by election or appointment, are never put in the position of being able to put their own children’s or other close relative’s monetary interests over people with whom they are not related. No one — not even a politician — can be blamed for choosing to do so. So it’s only common sense to remove even the temptation to do so …

Read full article by clicking here.

Capitol Corruption Inspires June Ballot Measure

Photo Credit: kqed.org

Former State Senator Leland Yee. Photo Credit: kqed.org

California Secretary of State Alex Pedilla has assigned a number, Proposition 50, to the only measure to appear on the upcoming June primary ballot.

If passed by the voters, Prop. 50 would amend the state constitution to allow either chamber of the Legislature, by a two-thirds vote, to suspend a member of that body without pay or benefits.

The measure stands as a reminder of the corruption that has gripped the California State Capitol in recent years.

To understand the origin of this measure, placed on the ballot by the Legislature, you need only look back to March 28, 2014. That was just days after State Senator Leland Yee became the third Democrat in the Legislature’s upper chamber to become embroiled in criminal wrong-doing, with the federal government charging Yee with gun-running, illegal sale of firearms, of taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash bribes, and more.

The previous month, State Senator Ron Calderon had been indicted by the federal government on bribery and corruption charges. A month before that, State Senator Rod Wright was convicted by a jury of multiple felony counts of voter fraud and perjury.

Then-State Senate President Darrell Steinberg was part of a bi-partisan Capitol establishment which largely looked the other way, permitting Wright to serve after being charged, and – incredibly – after being found guilty. Calderon was also allowed to continue to serve despite his high-profile charges. Public calls by several Republican Senators to take action, including a formal resolution to expel Wright, were buried by Steinberg and not permitted to come to a vote. It wasn’t until Yee was indicted that finally the pressure on the State Senate leadership was such that they were forced to act.

Yee’s indictment was apparently the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and the Senate voted to suspend Calderon, Wright and Yee. When that was done, it was made clear that there was no authority under the state constitution to stop paying the Senators their $90,526 annual pay–and benefits. At that time the constitutional amendment that would become Prop. 50 was introduced.

Wright remained in the Senate until appeal of his conviction was denied. Calderon and Yee served through the end of their terms in 2014, while suspended from their official duties. Both have criminal trials pending.

California state law allows only for measures placed on the ballot before the Legislature to appear on the June ballot. All measures qualified by gathering signatures must appear in November. It is anticipated that over 15 measures will appear on the general election ballot.

This article was originally published by Brietbart.com/California

Power to investigate the government mustn’t be erased

congressHere are two important questions which are often obscured by the noise and spatter from the blood sport of electoral politics.

Does honest government matter?

Can anything be done to prevent dishonest government or clean it up?

The answer to the first question is yes, it matters. Voters make choices based on the information they have. A government that makes dishonest statements cannot claim to have the consent of the governed. Instead, it’s governing by force and fraud.

The answer to the second question is yes, unless the government is dishonest.

The tools for preventing and cleaning up dishonest government include laws like the Inspector General Act of 1978, which created internal watchdog offices in government agencies, Justice Department prosecutions and congressional oversight.

It’s easy to dismiss congressional investigations as politically motivated, but the Constitution gives Congress broad authority to conduct oversight, per the language of Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment,” and “the Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments.”

A necessary part of the power to impeach is the power to investigate.

The House has just initiated impeachment proceedings against IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. He’s accused of failing to respond to a lawful subpoena for documents, obstructing a congressional investigation, giving false and misleading statements under oath, and failing to competently oversee an investigation into “Internal Revenue Service targeting of Americans based on their political affiliation.”

Because the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” is left to our elected representatives, impeachment is completely different from criminal charges, which the Justice Department declined to bring against anyone in the case of the alleged IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.

“Our investigation uncovered substantial evidence of mismanagement, poor judgment and institutional inertia,’’ Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik said in a letter to Congress. “But poor management is not a crime. We found no evidence that that any IRS official acted based on political, discriminatory, corrupt or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.’’

They may have found no evidence because 422 back-up tapes containing the e-mail correspondence of IRS official Lois Lerner were degaussed (magnetically erased) by IRS employees. The Treasury Department’s inspector general said the destruction of the tapes happened “on or around March 4, 2014, one month after the IRS realized they were missing emails from Lois Lerner, and approximately eight months after the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requested ‘all documents and communications sent by, received by or copied to Lois Lerner.’”

Was it a misunderstanding or a successful cover-up?

Consider this: Last year, 47 inspectors general signed a letter protesting that three agencies, including the Justice Department, were obstructing investigations of alleged wrongdoing. Then in July, the Justice Department issued a new policy that blocks IGs from gaining access to certain kinds of evidence, including grand jury and wiretap information, unless they first obtain the permission of the head of the agency they’re investigating.

Nixon was run out of town for less.

If an administration won’t investigate itself, there’s no tool in the toolbox except congressional oversight and, if necessary, impeachment.

The only other check on dishonest government is the ballot box. But first, voters would have to believe that honest government matters.

More Corruption and Bribery Uncovered at CA DMV

DMVThe state Department of Motor Vehicles used to be a symbol of bureaucratic inefficiency, the subject of decades of jokes by Jay Leno and other California-based comedians. But then something unexpected happened: The DMV adopted to the computer era better than most state agencies and is often easy to use nowadays, both in scheduling appointments and in handling registration and some license renewals online.

Now, however, the agency is becoming notorious for another problem: chronic corruption. This is from an Aug. 11 AP report:

As many as 100 commercial truck drivers paid up to $5,000 each to bribe state Department of Motor Vehicles employees for illegal California licenses, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Up to 23 traffic accidents could be related to the fraud, officials said, though there were no fatalities.

Emma Klem, a 45-year-old Salinas DMV employee, and trucking school owner Kulwinder Dosanjh Singh, 58, of Turlock, both pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to commit bribery and identity fraud, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner said.

Two other DMV employees in Salinas and Sacramento and two other Central Valley trucking school operators have been arrested on similar charges.

Court records say the employees changed computer records to falsely show that drivers had passed written and behind-the-wheel tests after they were bribed by the owners of three truck-driving schools between June 2011 and March 2015. …

The DMV revoked or cancelled 602 commercial licenses that could be linked to the fraud, including the 100 that were pinpointed by investigators, said Frank Alvarez, the DMV’s chief investigator.

Bribery cases concentrated in San Diego County

This is only one of several recent cases. This is from a June Union-Tribune report:

— A California Highway Patrol officer is the second person to be charged in connection with a DMV bribery scandal.

Carlos Ravelo is accused of illegally transferring a temporary driver’s license to a driver, once in September 2013 and again in January 2014, according to an indictment unsealed in San Diego federal court last month.

Ravelo is a 13-year veteran officer and works at the CHP’s El Cajon station.

In March, a Westminster DMV employee was arrested and charged with two counts related to taking bribes to provide driver’s licenses.

The Los Angeles Times also notes other cases in San Diego County:

In February, a San Diego DMV official pleaded guilty to accepting bribes for setting aside license suspensions and providing unauthorized temporary licenses to drivers who had lost theirs after being arrested on DUI charges.

Last year, five employees of the DMV’s El Cajon and Rancho San Diego offices were convicted in connection with a bribery scam in which licenses were improperly provided to clients of a local driving school.

Low starting pay may be driving scandals

These are in addition to 21 FBI arrests related to bribery at the same two offices in May 2012. This is from the FBI’s press release:

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced today that employees at the California Department of Motor Vehicles in San Diego County were charged in a criminal complaint for their involvement in a long-running bribery conspiracy that resulted in the production of hundreds of fraudulent driver licenses for applicants who had failed — or not taken — the required driver license tests.

The complaint alleges that DMV officials at the El Cajon DMV office … and the Rancho San Diego DMV office … falsely entered both “passing” written and “passing” driving test scores for applicants in exchange for bribes ranging up to $3,000 per license.

In addition to the DMV employees, 16 other defendants were charged in the complaint. … According to court documents, the corruption scheme involved the fraudulent production of both Class C (regular) and Commercial Class A driver licenses. Hundreds of applicants paid recruiters approximately $400- $500 for each fraudulent Class C license … .

Considering that the starting pay of a “business service assistant” at DMV can be as low as $29,940 a year, this may be behind clerks deciding to augment their income illegally.